Noise-Induced Hearing Loss – What you need to know

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As the name suggests, Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is when a person experience hearing loss from unhealthy exposure to noise. This could be due to a one-time incident, or happens gradually overtime. In this blog article, we’ll discuss the different topics revolving NIHL.

What is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

If you’re familiar with the different types of hearing loss, you might have heard of sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss and mixed hearing loss. These are not to be confused with NIHL, because they are used to diagnose which part of the ear isn’t functionally properly and contributing to the hearing loss. On the hand, NIHL is simply meant to attribute the cause of hearing loss to noise exposure, and doesn’t tell us anything about which part of the ear is faulty.

NIHL can happen when the person is regularly exposed to sounds that are at unsafe levels, which is generally about 80dB and more (short for decibels, the measurement unit for sound). This includes sounds like the hair dryer and heavy traffic, and even louder sounds include sirens or construction noise.

NIHL rarely occurs from a one-time incident, which can happen only in very specific situations like forgetting to wear earplugs at the fire range (which the person may also experience tinnitus – ringing in the ears). Almost all the time, NIHL happens overtime due to exposure to loud noises regularly. The louder the sounds are, the more accelerated the hearing loss is.

How does the noise damage one’s hearing?

To understand how noise damages one’s hearing, we’ll need to first briefly understand how our ear picks up sound. Noise (or sound) first enters the ear through the ear canal and reaches the tympanic membrane, also commonly known as the eardrum. The eardrum vibrates from the sound waves, in which the vibration is passed onto a series of tiny bones and eventually to the cochlea.

 

Inside the cochlea, there are many cells called hair cells, which are involved in sending electrical signals to the brain when they sense vibrations, so that we can process and understand the sound being heard. Noises that are too loud will cause damage to these hair cells, causing them to lose their functionality, and the person experiences NIHL. As such, NIHL that happen overtime is classified as a type of sensorineural hearing loss, because the hair cells in the cochlea are faulty and not able to send electrical signals properly to the brain. The Hearing Centre provides the best hearing aids in Singapore which can solve hearing loss and make you hearing level better

 

On the other hand, NIHL causing conductive hearing loss can also happen, but only due to extremely loud sounds like gunshots as mentioned earlier. The loud sounds have very powerful vibrations, rupturing the eardrum and causes immediate hearing problems.

 

Why Noise-Induced Hearing Loss should be taken seriously

 

NIHL isn’t like age related hearing loss where the different ear components start to deteriorate in function – it is very preventable and within one’s control. If the workplace exposes one to very loud noises, it is imperative to wear earplugs to protect your hearing, such as working at a construction site. For recreational activity like going to clubs, taking short breaks once in a while can help in the long run.

A more common cause of NIHL among the younger generation would be the use of earphones at very high volumes. Sure enough, louder music might be more enjoyable and immersive, but overtime their hearing will suffer, and create a vicious cycle of adjusting the volume even higher and further worsening their hearing. Lowering the volume or taking more breaks between music sessions is advised to help protect one’s hearing, which cannot be treated once it starts to worsen and is permanent.

Hearing loss is bad because:

  • You cannot enjoy the sounds as well as you did before
  • It’s more difficult to have engaging conversations
  • Possible social isolation
  • You might have to spend money to buy hearing aids
  • Possible health issues like poorer cognitive function and dementia

 

Conclusion

NIHL is one of the most preventable types of hearing loss as long as one is vigilant about it. By exercising good hearing habits such as wearing earplugs in loud environments and minimizing one’s prolonged exposure to loud noises, the onset of NIHL can be avoided.

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